Prior to Nigeria’s April 2011 elections, I questioned the suitability of Mr. Goodluck Jonathan for the presidency. His track record as Vice-President, Acting President and President had left me not just uninspired or discouraged, but scared.
Of those on the ballot for president, I was looking for a man who would offer the sternest challenge to the status quo, especially our most intractable problem: corruption.
I endorsed Muhammadu Buhari. Almost immediately, I was called names by some people for whom the character or passion of a candidate was unimportant. Some of my critics, evidently people for whom everyone is moved by money and nobody by principle, were quick to suggest that I had been paid for.
I was simply looking for someone who would stab corruption in the heart and leave it bleeding fatally. I have always felt that that blood is needed to fertilize our land and liberate the talent, institutions, people and funds required to reinvent Nigeria. I still believe that unless the fear of hell is inflicted deep into corruption in Nigeria, we will remain the laughing stock among nations.
That was last March. The following month, Mr. Jonathan claimed the presidency, partly on account of a population which mistook hope for vision. In May—14 months after he first became President and one month after he promised the very skies to Nigerians of every hue—Mr. Jonathan got his wish: he was inaugurated as President in his own name.
Just then, the new ruler started to beat a retreat. Completely absent from him is the fire that melts steel; absent is the conviction that Nigeria can neither wait nor can he adopt the same methods that have failed us so miserably for 50 years and yet achieve the “transformation” he promised.
Rather, the only notable whimper from Mr. Jonathan so far is his abominable desire to see one long term of office for the president, a proposal couched, for purposes of seeking support for the idea, to include governors and some other office holders.
Good governance—the onslaught for development and progress through the thicket of corruption, mediocrity and fear of change—is attack, not defense. Good governance is defiance and demolition of the status quo, not compromise or negotiation with it.
Good governance is the courage to advance, not the authority to sit down—for you may be sitting down on a dying child, or suffocating a genius.
Good governance is NOW, not later; it is ME, not a Minister or a Commissioner or a Permanent Secretary.
That is why great leaders deploy personal example. They liberate hidden gems, including the time to act, and the talents. They smash down barricaded doors and mountainous stonewalls; in their place they erect giant monuments and expressways that define tomorrow.
That leads me into what is perhaps the most significant thing about great leaders: fear. They are always afraid, and they are not afraid to be afraid. They are afraid that while they control power, they cannot control Time. They are afraid to squander that precious and irreplaceable resource in merriment or indolence. They want to ascertain they do not run out of it when they are conquering disease or leading education.
Great leaders are always clear that the authority in their hands is a loan, not a possession. They are afraid that if they delay, History may unmask them as a fraud.
The Great ones are suspicious of the temptations of comfort and sleep. They understand that social progress demands they stay awake to plot and plan and prompt. They know they must not only inspire, they must perspire.
The Great Ones understand the meaning of doing; that doing is what genuine service is about. They understand the paradox that only service defines leadership.
This is why the Great ones do not wait. They know that waiting is for travelers with no sense of History. The Great Ones, having seen rain interrupt too many festivities, and festivities interrupt too many good intentions, hold procrastination in contempt.
Mr. Jonathan, regrettably, does not seem to understand this. He has shown no signs of being conscious of the depth of the rot Nigeria is in, let alone his place in combat. He seems to be tiptoeing around his staff of office, perhaps a victim of his principal metaphor: “If I can do it, you can do it.”
Mr. Jonathan was exploiting his journey to the dizzying heights of his prized Ph.D and the presidency through the deprivation of his youth. In the light of the present, he seems to have been suggesting that Nigerians should be content to help him enjoy his good fortune in the understanding that someday, it will be their turn.
He is not without speeches. He made a lot of them as Vice-President, and still more as Acting President. And then he became President.
That was last year, when Jonathan was thought to be handcuffed by the concern that the presidency he exercised was not his. Somehow, he seems to have missed the part where he actually needs to come to work in the morning.
And so here we are, in 2011, stuck with another ruler who has a vacancy in his body. Perhaps he is waiting for Madame “Prime Minister,” Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, but the clinic does not seem to exist.
Mr. Jonathan is commencing a “pretend” war on corruption by asking for a probe of various federal bodies since 2007.
But how can you fight corruption with bad example? If Mr. Jonathan is afraid to declare his assets publicly because he fears a public backlash over how quickly his portfolio has expanded in the past four years, how is he going to demand probity of his officials?
He seems to be asking Nigerians to accept his declaration of good intentions as being good enough without his having to invest any credibility in it, a test that successive Nigerian rulers have failed.
The most interesting part is that never before in Nigeria’s History has the challenge before a ruler been as clear as the one before Jonathan. It is simply to implement the agenda he has proclaimed for months, by which he has set the bar of public expectation very high.
That is why, for the first time, a Nigerian ruler has no choice but to achieve. By achievement I do not refer to.
If Jonathan’s performance does not go beyond the inauguration of time-buying committees: if he does not deliver on his electoral promises, there will be no more fig leaves under which Nigerians will hide their frustrations, for they would have been openly insulted as fools. Add an openly deceptive government, state-recognized looting, widespread illegal weapons imports, disorganized security agencies, bold militant groups, higher unemployment and deeper social divisions to growing tensions and anger, and it is not difficult to foresee mayhem coming down the road to Jonathanistan.
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